Morocco's New Soundscape / by George Bajalia

Morocco seems to be caught between two “revolutions.” There is the Arab Spring movement, characterized in some opinions by anti-monarchists and pro-democracy activism, and there is the Islamist movement, led by the Party of Justice and Development (PJD), the new majority holders in Parliament. At times, it’s difficult to tell exactly how these movements are progressing but, today, a good friend of mine prompted me to start thinking about things a bit differently. 

Much discussion has taken place regarding Tangier’s cityscape, urban development, and the destruction of its natural beauty. Foreign developers, in conjunction with the government, are redoing Tangier city’s harbor to create a tourist companion to the sprawling TangerMed industrial port a few kilometers down the bay. Naysayers argue that there will be no place for the fishing industry, one of the few remaining sea-going enterprises based out of Tangier proper, and the harbor will be given over to foreign yachter and tourist ferry boats. Advocates say that it has the potential to revitalize Tangier’s tourism industry, and the proposed ski lift from the port to the Kasbah will not be “Disney-fying” but electrifying. 

However, no matter which “revolution” takes hold of the people, it seems likely that these developments will continue regardless. As an alternative way of thinking about these movements, I propose not looking, but listening. The call to prayer is an immovable part of Morocco’s soundscape, and it seems unlikely to go away anytime soon. It adds an element of temporality to idle musings at the cafe, and it provides relief in the workday. During Ramadan, it unites millions across the country in a moment of pause, and brings them together for the first meal of the day. As of late, though, this peaceful reminder of something greater has lost dominance of the religious soundscape. Religiosity, packaged into CD form, spreads across the city through speakers taped to a push cart, and powered by a car battery. 

As my friend tells it, and in my own memory, these carts cropped up in abundance earlier in 2012, around the time the PJD took power in Parliament. Perhaps it’s a stretch to say that the two are related but then again, perhaps it’s not. Either way, its effect is undeniable. Religion, and its sonic invocations, are being commercialized and packaged in jingle form the same as anything else. In consequence, these invocations are increasingly “religisizing” the public sphere in a way that seems at odds with the sacristy of the call to prayer. Religion, as it adapts to the global commercial age, may prove to be the most powerful force in the much talked about “Arab Spring.” Either way, it’s certainly catchy.

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